I’d like to start this article by apologising, as I’m a bit under the weather as I write this. You see this past week I, like many of you, have been struck down with a debilitating illness. It’s something that comes around every January and claims thousands of victims.
Yes, my friends, I regret to inform you that I’ve got FA CUP FEVER.
That’s right ladies and gentlemen. Strap in this weekend for some piping hot cup football action pumped directly into your living room by the good people at the BBC and BT Sport. You’ll see plucky upstarts like West Ham United attempt to pull off a giant killing at home to Manchester City while Championship promotion contenders Reading will aim to get a 0-0 off sixth-placed Premier League side Manchester United.
And as for Sunderland? Why Burnley at home, of course! Nothing makes you want to shed a glorious ‘magic of the FA Cup’ tear more than a home tie against a team you played literally a week ago. God, I love this competition.
As we gear up for the festival of football which will be two Premier League reserve teams playing in front of 16,000 fans in a freezing Stadium of Light, praying they don’t draw, we’ve picked out some better FA Cup third round ties of years gone by.
Sunderland 3-0 Port Vale - January 4th, 1992
Speaking of playing a team in your division in front of 16,000 supporters, the start of our 1992 FA Cup campaign began against Port Vale. A 3-0 victory over a side that would eventually finish bottom of Division One did not seem like something we would look back on fondly. However, those goals from Brian Atkinson, Peter Davenport and John Byrne kick-started an unlikely cup run.
Dreams of 1973 came flooding back as this fairly atrocious Sunderland side from the lower reaches of the second tier blitzed their way past Oxford United, West Ham, Chelsea and Norwich City to get another chance of silverware against Liverpool. Of course, we were crap in the final, surrendered meekly and have not been back since. Classic Sunderland.
Manchester United 2-2 Sunderland - January 6th, 1996
In the era of Britpop, ecstasy and Now That’s What I Call Music CDs, Sunderland were still a Division One team, but this time with a twist - they were good. The 1996 FA Cup third round saw The Lads pull a plum tie away at angry Scottish man Alex Ferguson’s all-conquering Manchester United.
Whilst a slaughtering looked on the cards, when professional bald guy Steve Agnew and a young Craig Russell had cancelled out a pre-bald Nicky Butt opener the hordes from Wearside were dreaming of a famous upset. However, an Eric Cantona equaliser ten minutes from time took the game to a replay at Roker Park where United prevailed 2-1 thanks to a last-gasp Andy Cole winner.
Honestly, you should look up the United team from those two games - it's genuinely amazing that we didn’t get mullered.
Rotherham United 1-5 Sunderland - January 3rd, 1998
There’s no beating around the bush here, the Sunderland side from 1997 to 2001 was absolutely sensational. The dynamic wing play of Nicky Summerbee and Allan Johnston complimented by surging full backs Micky Gray and Chris Makin, feeding the dynamite duo of Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips.... sorry, I’m drooling here.
Rotherham had no answer as Phillips bagged four and we smashed The Millers 5-1 in the midst of a three-month unbeaten run. We were curtailed, of course, in the fourth round when we were beat by Tranmere Rovers in a game where they didn’t decide to sub a player who’d just been sent off - they saved that for a couple of years later.
Sunderland 1-0 Hartlepool United - January 3rd, 2004
Early FA Cup ties at the Stadium of Light are usually one of a few things - boring, freezing, crap, sparse or all of the above. However, when Hartlepool United rolled into town to face Mick McCarthy’s Sunderland on a baltic 2004 afternoon it was simply electric.
Almost 9,000 Monkey Hangers piled into the Stadium of Light helping towards the biggest crowd of the season and were hugely unfortunate not to get at least a replay. Lovely Julio Arca broke their hearts in the second half and while we scraped past a Division Two side, it felt like a proper cup tie.
We, of course, reached the semi-final that year and Tim bastard Cahill ruined everything.
Peterborough United 0-2 Sunderland - January 8th, 2012
This still ranks as one of the best awaydays in recent memory. Relieved of the curse of Steve Bruce, Martin O’Neill had us believing that a) we were dead mint and b) he was a class manager. It was a day that felt like we were on the cusp of the good times returning. We turned up at Peterborough’s London Road safe in the knowledge we’d win.
With the Sunderland supporters bouncing around the terraces shouting about Kevin Ball, Dickie Ord and Tommy Sorensen like it was the good old days, Seb Larsson and James McClean (who everyone liked back then) bagged the goals we all knew were coming and we sauntered into the fourth round without a care in the world.
A perfect cup tie, and a perfect day.